Not much was expected of Doug Baldwin when he entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent three years ago, but he's since become an important piece of the Seattle Seahawks offense. He's only three years deep in his professional career, but he finally proved that he can be a serious weapon towards the end of last season.
Baldwin showed up big time in the playoffs, racking up 13 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown, including a six-catch, 106-yard performance against the San Francisco 49ers. As we look forward to the 2014 season, Baldwin will have more expected of him (especially now that Golden Tate is with the Detroit Lions), but he will deliver in a big way.
He will see an increased role in the offense next season, largely because of the uncertainty surrounding Seattle's other top receivers.
Even though they retained Sidney Rice, the Seahawks need some assurance at the wide receiver position. Though he was deemed healthy last week, Rice's injury history is well documented and is a great reason to keep Baldwin heavily involved in the offense.
Percy Harvin also stands to hold a major role in the offense, but his recent list of injuries leaves little assurance that Seattle is set at receiver. Baldwin may not be ready to step up and become a No. 1 receiver yet—that will likely be Rice—but he could certainly become a Lance Moore-type player for Seattle.
Marshawn Lynch and the running game is obviously the focal point of the Seahawks' playbook, but having a guy like Baldwin to move the chains on long third downs and beyond will allow them to spice up their offensive game plan.
He would loosen up coverage on Harvin and Rice while also easing things up for their rushing attack. Lynch clearly does a great job of gaining yards and dominating defenses, but imagine the offensive opportunities he'd have if Seattle had a more respected passing game—a consistent receiver like Baldwin could be the key to unlocking a whole new Beast Mode.
A more productive running back means a more intimidated defense, and the respect that Lynch gets as a runner will only benefit this receiving group, namely Baldwin.
How big will Doug Baldwin's impact be in 2014?
Baldwin will be getting plenty of looks next season after helping the Seahawks cap off their season with a championship in 2013. He not only contributed to their victory over the Denver Broncos (five catches on five targets, 66 yards and a touchdown) but also helped Wilson grow up some within the offense.
There was a clear chemistry between the two last season, and that will undoubtedly carry over into 2014. Given Wilson's trust in him, Baldwin will get more targets than ever before in 2014.
Langland bets that Baldwin's production "skyrockets" given the departure of Tate and also notes that he was the first undrafted rookie free agent to lead his team in both catches and receiving yards since the AFL and NFL became one.
Miller ranked Baldwin as the 39th-best receiver in the league following last season and labels him as a "special" receiver across the middle. He went on:
In a run-heavy offense, Baldwin didn’t see as many targets as most, but after evaluating those throws, you see his consistency. Over the middle, he’s special, showing strong hands and good concentration. His few drops were more an issue of catch radius and reach than poor hands.
Baldwin shows good quickness and cutting ability on routes over the middle and when working the intermediate flats.
With another full offseason and training camp coming, it's likely Baldwin corrects the few things he did wrong in 2013, and he will take another step forward next season. His lack of size and elite speed will probably keep him from being a No. 1 receiver in this league, but his ability as a receiver is hard to ignore and will lead to a big season in 2014.